Classes of main verbs

The class of verbs that function as main verbs in verb phrases can be divided into subclasses in different ways. Here we introduce two types of subclassification; the distinction between stative and dynamic verbs, and the classification of verbs in terms of transitivity. 

Stative and dynamic verbs

The distinction between stative and dynamic verbs is based on the meaning of a verb. Broadly speaking, verbs that denote a stable state of affairs (which may sometimes have relatively short duration) are referred to as stative verbs. This class of verbs includes verbs describing mental states (e.g. know, believe) and emotions (e.g. like, love, hate).

Dynamic verbs are verbs that typically denote an activity which is controlled by an active 'doer' or agent. Examples include, among many others, verbs like run, move, work, play, and make.

The distinction between stative and dynamic verbs is important for the possibility of forming verb phrases in the progressive aspect (sometimes referred to as the continuous form). Dynamic verbs occur in the progressive, whereas stative verbs do not:

(1) Bill is working very hard on his project application.

(2) *Bill is knowing that his career depends on it.
      (the asterisk, as always, denotes an ungrammatical sentence)

For more on the use of the progressive in English see

Transitive verbs

The classification of verbs into transitive, intransitive, or copular requires some background knowledge in basic clause structure. Follow the link below to get basic information about clauses and their parts.

Verbs may be classified in terms of what other elements they require in the same clause. A verb like destroy requires the presence of a grammatical subject denoting either a 'doer' or agent or some inanimate cause of destruction, as well as a direct object denoting the target of destruction, as in the following example.

(3) Bill/The storm destroyed our house.

Verbs that require an object are called transitive verbs. Some transitive verbs can, and normally do, occur with two objects. The prime example is the verb give, which in its most frequent use require both an object that denotes the recipient of a thing (the indirect object) and the thing itself (the direct object), as in the following example.

Bill

gave

his mother

a new car.

Subject

Predicate
Verb

Indirect
object

Direct
object

 

 

 

 

To distinguish verbs like give from verbs like destroy, the former are referred to as ditransitive verbs, whereas the latter are referred to either as transitive or, to emphasise the fact that they require only one object, monotransitive.

A third type of transitive verbs require both an object and a further element, called an object predicative, ascribing a property to whatever the object denotes. A prime example is the most common use of consider, as in the following example:

Everybody

considers

my sister

a bit odd.

Subject

Predicate
Verb

Direct
object

Object
predicative

Verbs like consider, which take both an object and an object predicative, are referred to as complex-transitive verbs.

For more information on predicatives, see:

A Swedish perspective: Differences in transitivity (click to expand/contract)

Verbs like tell are normally used as ditransitive verbs in English. However, sometimes the indirect object need not be specified. This is illustrated in the following pairs.

Grandmother

told

(the children)

a story.

Subject

PV

Indirect
object

Direct
object

Mormor

berättade

en saga.

As this example illustrates, Swedish has no indirect object with the verb berätta. If a recipient needs to be specified, Swedish uses an alternative construction (e.g. för barnen, in the present example). That type of construction is also available in English (here: to the children). In both languages, however, the indirect object can be omitted altogether.

If the direct object takes the form of a clause, however, English cannot omit the indirect object, whereas Swedish can. Thus the following is ungrammatical in English but perfectly grammatical in Swedish:

(1) *Grandmother told that she grew up in Scotland.
     (But: Grandmother told us that she grew up in Scotland.)

(2) Mormor berättade att hon växte upp i Skottland.

Some other verbs with similar meanings also require an indirect object in English, in contrast with Swedish, where it is optional.

(3) The general assured us that he had taken over only to stop the warring factions from cutting each others' throats.

(4) Generalen försäkrade (oss) att han hade tagit över...

(5) The servant informed me that his master did not wish to speak to me.

(6) Betjänten meddelade (mig) att hans herre inte önskade tala med mig.

(7) Let me remind you that the decision of the committee was unanimous.

(8) Får jag påminna (er) om att kommitténs beslut var enhälligt. 


Copular verbs

Copular verbs are similar to transitive verbs in that they require an additional element besides the subject. This element, called a predicative, is like an object in occurring after the verb. However, predicatives differ from objects in significant ways. By way of illustration, consider the following pair of sentences:

Bill

hired

a good lawyer.

Subject

Predicate Verb

Direct object

Bill

is

a good lawyer

Subject

Predicate Verb

Predicative

In the first example, the noun phrase a good lawyer functions as a direct object, whereas in the second one the same noun phrase functions as a predicative. Note the following differences:

  1. The direct object refers to an individual which is distinct from the subject, whereas the predicative does not really refer to an individual at all. Instead, the predicative is used to characterise the subject.
  2. There is an alternative way of expressing the message in the first sentence, namely with a passive sentence, whereas the second sentence has no passive alternative:

(4) A good lawyer was hired by Bill.

(5) *A good lawyer was been by Bill

Predicatives, then are different from objects, but are still required by some verbs, namely the copular verbs. Copular verbs are typically low in informational content, and refer mostly to states of being or becoming. In the following examples the verbs in boldface are copular verbs:

(6) Bill seems angry.

(7) Bill became a lawyer.

(8) The liquid turned green.

For more information on predicatives, see:

A Swedish perspective: Sensory verbs (click to expand/contract)

English sensory verbs like smell, taste, feel, look are followed by predicatives, i.e. they are copular verbs. Since predicatives may take the form of adjective phrases, but not adverb phrases, it is important to recognize this group of copular verbs. In Swedish, some of them are intransitive and occur with adverbials. The following examples are worth noting:

(1) The green liquid smelled strange. (NOT *strangely)

(2) The strawberries tasted good. (NOT *well)

(3) The whole situation felt awkward. (NOT *awkwardly)


Intransitive verbs

Verbs that do not require an object are called intransitive verbs. Typical examples include verbs like arrive, die, faint, etc., as in the following examples:

(9) The train has arrived.

(10) All the ants died.

(11) The old man fainted.